By Jean Blish Siers *
A new gleaner joined our ranks this year, a delightful senior citizen named Gloria who heard about us from a friend and came to a strawberry gleaning early in the season. She’s been out almost once a week since, driving to far-flung fields in places she’s never been before.
On Saturday we were in Rowan County, about an hour north of Charlotte, where both Gloria and I live. She got lost several times on the way – there were ramp closures on the interstate and roads closed for construction once she got off the freeway. After calling three times for directions, I expected her to tell me that she was giving up and going home. But Gloria persevered and arrived a half hour late, determined to glean.
“I almost didn’t come this morning,” she told me, changing from her perky driving shoes to her muddy boots. “I was tired. But then I remembered this woman who I took tomatoes to the last time and I got out of bed and came.” We had gleaned tomatoes the week before, at a different farm, and Gloria had put a few boxes in her car for her church’s food pantry. “There is a lady in our church and she has Alzheimer’s,” she told me. “So I kept a tomato and took it home, cut it up, and brought her a good tomato sandwich with some mayonnaise. When she bit into that real tomato, it was like she came back to life! That’s why I got out of bed.”
Experts on dementia and Alzheimer’s suggest that stimulating the senses is good for those suffering with the disease. The sense of taste, like smell or touch, can trigger memories that lie buried deep inside our brains. Picture that woman taking a bite of a real tomato sandwich, the fruit still warm from the field! It transported her, maybe only for a few minutes, to a joyous summer in her childhood. What a moment of peace!
We glean to nourish the body, of course, but also the spirit. We pray before a gleaning, asking that those who receive the food know that they are loved, not just by God but by people they’ve never met and probably never will. The food is a tangible sign of God’s love, and also our own love for the greater community.
Gloria has been a great addition to our gleaning community this summer. We enjoy her spirit and humor in the field. But I love knowing that her presence – one person, one box or bucket at a time – touches people all over area, bringing them not just a tomato sandwich but the knowledge that they are important and loved.
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s gleaning coordinator in Charlotte, North Carolina